GO ON BEFORE THE PEOPLE AND TAKE WITH THEE
The Sermon preached by the Rev. George William Rutler, OGS, Rector of the Church of the Good Shepherd, Rosemont, Pennsylvania, at the Consecration to the Episcopate in Denver, Colorado, on January 28, 1978, of C. Dale Doren, Robert Sherwood Morse, James Orin Mote and Peter Francis Watterson, for the Anglican Church in North America.
Through the power of God who breathed on the water on the first day of Creation, and who breathed on the Cross on the first day of Redemption, and who breathed on Jerusalem on the first day of Sanctification, I am called to breathe today in the name of God. This is my glory as a priest. Through the invitation of the bishops here assembled I, who am junior in wisdom and senior in sin, am called to preach before the elders and the saints. That is my mortification as a man. So I speak to you in the power of God and in the weakness of my heart. Say “Amen” to both for it is certain that we come here joyful in the majesty of God and repentant of the foolishness in ourselves.
If on such a happy day we need assurance, it should be that God chooses the weak things of the world to confound the wise. That is why I would have you remember Moses and his people. I know little about ancient Israel, but then again, you have asked me to tell bishops how to be bishops, and of that I know even less. So you will let me hide my ignorance in the pages of God’s Holy Word, for while they describe a people far removed from us, the parish priest in me sees in them souls very much like ours.
Moses led them out of Egypt. Yet Moses had been a prince in the courts of Egypt. It could not have been easy for him to lead the exodus, and he found all manner of excuses not to, from the irregularity of his orders to the impediment of his speech. When he left, he must have carried with him heavy regret that so much sweat and so much innocency had been the price of freedom.
Egypt, in any case, was behind. So must our past dissents be behind. No longer will we revive old complaints. They are past and done, and the measuring of them will be a proper activity for our children who, we hope, will have more time for retrospection than we. If Egypt wants peace with Israel, it will make us glad and we will do everything we can to achieve that peace as God wills it. For Egypt is where we were and Israel is where we are going, but it is the prayer of Christ that all of us should end in Heaven.
It is not so important that we have left things behind. Every Christian is commanded to do that in baptism. It is more important that we recognize the new man we are putting on. It can be a shock. When Israel had finished celebrating its delivery, when Moses put down his trumpet and Deborah her tambourine, they looked around and realized they were singing the Lord’s song in a strange land.
Sometime this afternoon after we have paid the bills, or tomorrow after we have packed up, or the next day when we read the newspapers, sometime soon, it will dawn that we have been singing the Lord’s song in a strange land. This Philadelphian is not referring to Denver. I mean we are the first Christians at the end of an age. We stand on the worn terrain of a century’s finish, announcing Christ to the year 2,000. We are not salvaging old sentiments or reacting against inevitable change; we mean to change a stubborn world for Jesus Christ.
What a strange land in which we are doing it! It has been peopled with men who call our song a nursery rhyme, for they claim to have come of age. Trace their footsteps. They took the song about the God of love and threw it well more than six million times into ovens. They took the song about the God of peace and shred it twice worldwide and threaten to blow it apart altogether. They take the song about the God of judgment and rule it out of order in their parliaments.
How does one sing the Lord’s song to man come of age? By declaring that he has not come of age. Contemporary man is in his magnificent adolescence in which the body has grown beyond the coordination of the spirit, in which self-assurance is met with self-doubt, and self-discovery summons self-fear. He thought he had it all explained when he discovered the psyche, but then he tried to plumb its depths and found it had no bottom.
God told us about these things long ago when He declared Heaven Heaven and hell hell. It is a consolation to know about them, but the magnificent adolescent has rejected them. This is a bad state of affairs because, in trying to paint himself grown up, he risks losing the art of immortality. He gets everything backwards, and begins to sing a strange song in the Lord’s land. That is how we have become a throw-away generation. When the magnificent adolescent hides from his own soul, the sensible ecology – which saves the disposable – disposes what should be saved. Tyranny throws away freedom, banality throws away truth, and the magnificent adolescent weeps for the vanishing egret, walrus and whale, while behind his back the skilled hands of technical men are throwing away unborn babies.
This is the land into which God has called us, and I expect He had it planned from that first day He breathed on the water. Sometimes even Israel cannot see that and sometimes only Moses is left with the vision. The first time Jesus speaks in the Fourth Gospel, He says, “What are you looking for?” What are we looking for? In these past months we have often wondered what we had gotten ourselves into. At first it was a heady experience, this new freedom. Now we might be Israel, just as our father Jacob had been.
When we sang the Creed, we could openly cross our bodies and not our fingers. Then some began to murmur we had gone too far and some not far enough. Some wanted to keep fighting Pharoah and some thought they should be Moses. Oh yes! Great black birds have been slowly wheeling overhead. It was at this point that the children of Israel cried out, “Why have you brought us up out of Egypt?” They were dying of thirst and about to stone Moses. He called out, “What shall I do with them?” It is a call that has been called every time someone with vision tried to correct the myopia of his friends.
The Lord said to Moses, “Go on before the people, and take with thee of the elders of Israel…” So Moses took a staff in his hand and with it he led the people to a rock. They would have stumbled over it but he struck it with his staff and out of it came water. So this is a great day of joy. Many of us hesitated to come here. Years from now many more will hesitate to say they were not here.
It is quintessentially Anglican that we should be gathered in a Lutheran Church on the Feast of St. Thomas Aquinas. In a meditation, the French writer George Bernanos imagined God speaking these words to Luther:
Some would say God did not completely succeed with Luther. But just as Paul the reformer became Paul the apostle by his proclamation of faith, hope and love, so did Luther move from controversialist to prophet when he wrote: “There are three lights given to men: The light of nature, the light of grace, the light of glory.”
St. Thomas Aquinas wrote a great many miraculous volumes to say just that, but he most clearly moved from scholasticism to sanctity after he received a revelation while celebrating Mass: “The end of my labours is come. All that I have written appears to be as so much straw after the things that have been revealed to me.”
In the case of Israel, it was nature that made them thirsty. It was grace that gave Moses strength to lead them to the rock. But it was the sight of glory that quenched their thirst. “My flesh longeth after thee in a dry and thirsty land where no water is; To see thy power and thy glory.” (Psalm 63: 1) There are many gifts given to a bishop, but the chief charisms of episcope are the ability to be natural, graceful, and glorious.
My brothers called to be bishops, you must be natural. You will not lack people to remind you of that, but you know it better than anyone. It is good that you are natural because you can know what it is like to be thirsty. You are to be apostles of God who made Himself thirsty for our sakes. That will enable you to teach a drunken generation why it is still thirsty. Rejoice in the thirst. To desire a thing is the start of finding it, and that is true of us and of God.
Your first job as bishops is to show the world it needs bishops. One reason I believe in bishops is that, when I was a seminarian, a bishop visited the chapel and preached against them. He said we do not need shepherds because the people are not sheep. I knew the title Good Shepherd, which he called archaic, was not the invention of some arbitrary livestock interest, and as a seminarian I was obliged to disbelieve anything any bishop said in chapel, but chiefly I refused to believe him because I knew I was a sheep.
Now while it is natural to be sheep, it is a miracle that there should be shepherds. It is a gift that comes from God. You will know you are shepherds when you listen and can hear the sheep. Because you are natural, you will understand the natural law that human sheep do not bleat; they cry when they are born and they cry when they die, and in between they make scurrilous speeches from platforms, cheer from bleachers, croon “I love you,” snarl “I hate you,” swear by God, and ask if there is a God.
Be so natural that you can hear the sounds of the sheep. They will open their eyes and see in you what they have needed for a long time – a shepherd. When they can see the shepherd they will find that he is more than a shepherd. He is that figure so rare in fallen nature and so maligned in passing theology, a father.
My brothers called to be bishops, be graceful. You are men set apart. You can do nothing of your own. This is not your high priesthood; it belongs to the chief shepherd and bishop of our souls who is the only high priest. Your clumsy mistakes will be your own; your graceful miracles will be God’s. So you must pray for faith to expect miracles and grace to accept them when they happen. Never grow comfortable with holy things. The greatest graciousness required is to stand at the door of each church you enter and announce in the language of the people, “Christ is risen.”
Be so graceful that when some voice in the corner speaks up and says, “Is it true?” you will be able to say, “Yes, it is true, I have seen Him.” And if you have seen Him, then you will have the greatest grace of all, and a necessary charism of the elder: a willingness to die for the people. You can hardly point to the empty cross until you have holes in your hands. Have the grace to be marked men.
A missionary society in England asked a bishop in Uganda, “What can we send your people? You are being persecuted. Your archbishop has been martyred. What can we send you?” The answer came back: Not food, not medicine; 250 clerical collars. This was the explanation: “It is your western prejudice which thinks this an odd request. You must understand, when are people are being rounded up to be shot, they must be able to spot their priests.”
Be so graceful that people will be able to spot you. A woman spotted Peter at the campfire and Peter denied who he was until he spotted graceful Jesus. Days later, he spotted Jesus again on the edge of the lake. He swam to shore and Jesus said to him who stood dripping wet, “Feed my lambs…feed my sheep…feed my sheep.” Jesus built His Church on Peter, not because he was a rock but because he had been rocked, so rocked that from then on, like the Ancient Mariner haunted with a tale, Peter would say to every bishop he spotted, “Feed the sheep.” (I Peter 5: 2) If Jesus continues to build His Church on you, it is not because you are rocks but because you have hit the rocks. It is no shame. Moses hit a rock and out poured living water.
My brothers about to be bishops, be glorious. You are ambassadors of God, bearers of His glory. That is why this is the last time I may call you James, Peter, Robert, Dale. From now on you will be Bishop, and in that office your opinions and inclinations are subject to profound obedience to God. You must decrease that Jesus might increase. It is not a royal “we” that bishops use; it is a common “we.” It makes you one with the many angels and archangels and companions of heaven with whom you join your little voice to make the one great Sanctus.
From now on, the one time you must say “I” is when you go to confession. When Moses came down the mountain, the people did not remark his eyes, nose, or mouth; they were entranced by a glow now given to you. You are stewards of glory and that means the devil is also about to give you a devilish charism which he especially reserves for bishops: The ability to bankrupt glory. The people want to see light when they see you. Not to shed light is a sin of omission in ordinary folk, but it is a sin of commission in a bishop. My brothers, let there be light. That will be the start of new creation. May others come to say of you what the African boy said of his bishop: “You know he is a loving man, for his mouth is always opened for laughter, for he is still laughing and he will laugh forever.” Forever.
As the bearers of glory, you must meditate on how you will die. You must do it as did Pope John XXIII. His chaplain saw the shade of death crossing the old man’s face and in silence began to weep. The Pope placed a hand on his head and said, “Courage, my son. I am a bishop and I must die as a bishop, with simplicity but with majesty. And you must help me. Go get the people together.”
The people will come together whenever they want a bishop. My brothers, look! The people have come together today. You must launch a revival so impossible that it is doomed to failure without God.
Nature, grace and glory – may they be yours in full abundance. For you have a great work to do. Daniel said, “Those who know God shall stand firm and take action.” (Daniel 11: 32) You must go on before the people and take with you the elders of Israel. You must hold your staff and strike living water. You must let the Holy Spirit increase this movement. You must realize that you are involved in no petty ecclesiastical squabble but are part of a massive realignment between orthodoxy and secularism which is transforming and renewing all the Churches of Christendom.
You must convince skeptics that you mean what you say. You must teach spectators that you are involved in the Gospel. You must dissuade opportunists from exploiting our divisions. You must discourage enthusiasts from flaunting our success. You must create a seat of unity and trust out of an episcopate which, in recent years, has become a seat of disunity and distrust. You must break the conspiracy of silence that has kept the faithful ignorant of what is happening in the Church.
You must support our brothers and sisters who valiantly hope against hope that they can still convert the old house you have left. You must keep your own household in order, either as celibates after the example of St. Paul or married only once after the command of St. Paul. You must pray so hard that others will ask you to teach them how.
You must reaffirm the St. Louis Affirmation of our continued relations with the See of Canterbury and all faithful parts of the Anglican Communion. You must demonstrate that this Church is far from intending to depart from classical Anglicanism in any essential point of doctrine, discipline, or worship, and that our new formation is simply required of us by local circumstances. You must recollect that you are not being made Anglican bishops but bishops in the Church of God, just as we priests were not ordained Episcopal priests but priests in the Church of God and have forfeited the lesser identity to preserve the larger.
You must admonish those who think it rude to break communion that, beside the examples of the ancient saints, we have the example of that modern blessed one who is loving and laughing forever, Frank Weston, Bishop of Zanzibar, who broke communion with the Bishop of Hereford in 1915.
You must inform those who question your propriety that you are as proper or improper as Matthew Parker, the Non-Jurors and Samuel Seabury, and fundamentally you are as proper or improper as the entire Anglican experience. You must work for the renewal and unity of all Catholic Anglicans. You must petition the ancient Latin and Eastern Sees beginning with Rome that we regret post-Reformation Anglicanism has never been in communion with an historic patriarchate, and we pray for a restoration of apostolic unity, not as a distant vision or academic speculation, but as a fact in our time. You must make a place in your house for Mary, as did your ancestor, Bishop John.
It is a lot to ask, but we are not really asking it of you but of God. We ask it, knowing that some assembled here may not outlive the wilderness. It may be your vocation to remain on this side of the Jordan, and it may be your fate that the tribes will not remember where they left you. If so, you truly will be Moses. As such, we will need your blessing, for when your hands are raised, the Spirit of God will prevail and when they are lowered, the Spirit of the Age will prevail. By our “Amen” today, we promise to help keep your hands up.
Do not worry about our weakness. For more than Moses, you are called to be Christ. He held up His hands in His high priestly prayer and kept them up after His men had fallen asleep. He had to rely on nails. How true it is that He rained bread down on His people, and they rained nails down on Him! He gave them water out of the stony rock and they drew water from His ribs. What a strange land and what a strange people! He sang a song through it all.
What song was it? Ask any saint for there was not a saint alive, hoarse or coarse or croaking, who could not carry this tune. Elizabeth Fedorovna, in the Bolshevik revolution, being both a sister of the Tsarina and a nun, was taken from her convent hospital and thrown down an abandoned mine shaft. Refuse and debris were dumped on top of her. No stone could seal her sound. For hours after, the people of the village trembled because they could hear her singing. It was the song forbidden by the devil. It was the song still sung by Jesus and broke the devil’s back. It was the love song of the human race, the wedding song of Christ and the Church, the anthem of apostles ancient and modern, and it is the song you will sing as you go on before the people with staff in hand:
“I have overcome the world.”